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The Weakest Link?

Old MRydes Need New Clutches, Too

Photography by Drew Hardin

If you’ve built a killer motor for your car, or if you drag race or autocross, you probably already know that a beefy clutch is necessary to handle all the stress that increased torque and harsh driving conditions place on your driveline.

But let’s say you don’t have, or do, any of the above. What if you own an older car, like an A1 GTI or Scirocco, that, at least for now, is just a daily driver? When time and cash permit, you plan to make some mods, but until you hit the Lotto you’re making due. Are you still a candidate for a new clutch?

You very well could be. Putting a new clutch in your car is nowhere near as sexy as a cold-air intake, strut tower brace, or some other, more visible, component. But a new clutch could have more of an effect on your car’s performance than any number of bolt-ons. Remember that the clutch provides the link between your engine’s crankshaft and transmission. If that link is weak, it’s going to have problems sending all of the engine’s power to the tranny and, ultimately, the driving wheels. The last thing you need in a car with an old, stock motor is a drain on already precious power.

How can you tell if you need a new clutch? Typically, a stock clutch will last anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 miles, though that number can drop drastically, depending on your driving habits. Do you ride the clutch? Treat every stoplight like a dragstrip Christmas Tree? Well, a VW with a VR6 or G60 may go through clutches faster than a stock four-banger. So, watch the clock. And certainly, if you’re experiencing any slipping or hesitation when letting out the left pedal, it’s time for a new clutch.

When shopping for a replacement clutch, be sure to do some homework and match the clutch to your particular application. If you’ve got an older, basically stock car, like the ’83 Scirocco here, then there’s no need for you to spend the coin on a double-throw-down racing clutch with Kevlar plates and clamping forces that could smash atoms. You’ll do fine with a more reasonably priced clutch, like the Sachs Power Clutch we got from NOPI. Unlike a sport or racing clutch that can set you back $300 or more, this upgrade kit retails for way less than $100 and features all-new (not remanufactured) parts, a one-piece cover assembly, Raybestos-supplied organic friction material on the clutch disc, and diaphragm springs strong enough to generate a 15- to 21-percent increase in clamping loads over a stock clutch.

The stronger clamping loads will give you crisper engagement and can withstand all sorts of sporty driving punishment. In fact, a number of these units are being used in driving schools across the country, according to Sachs. Yet the springs aren’t so strong as to exhibit the harsh, on/off engagement found with some competition-oriented clutches.

If you’re on a really tight budget, you may be thinking about installing the clutch yourself. Before you make that decision, take a close look at the procedure shown here. This was done by professional Scott Wood at VW Specialties in Huntington Beach, California, who had the advantages of a lot of experience, a hoist, and a full tool roll-away that included the one or two specialized tools needed to get the job done. This installation requires removing the transmission from the engine, which in itself meant disconnecting and removing a lot of stuff, including the axles. It took Scott a full three hours to complete the swap. If you’re not comfortable with doing major engine work and you don’t have the means of lifting the car to get the tranny out from under it, consider professional installation. The $200 to $250 (which is what VW Specialties charges for this kind of job) may be money well spent.

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